Senior Living Care Blog

Alzheimer's Care: 5 Things Not to Say to a Senior

Posted by Conor Denton on Nov 30, 2017 10:00:00 AM


Every day, roughly 1,300 people develop Alzheimer’s Disease. As the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, 1 in every 3 people die with Alzheimer’s or other dementia-related impairments. Once attributing these statistics to the 5 million people in the U.S. who’ve already developed this horrendous disease, the intensity of the situation arises. It is imperative that the public remains educated on the disease itself; as well as knowing the Do’s and Don’ts of assisting those affected by this vicious illness.

Younger man consoling his elderly fatherAlzheimer’s changes lifestyles. Things people were able to do pre-illness have become impossible to complete post-illness. The same process is applied to their loved ones as well. Topics you used to discuss regularly with friends and family may have to be reeled in to avoid triggering someone whose characteristics have been altered by Alzheimer’s. Those who associate themselves with people affected by Alzheimer’s must be meticulous with their words and actions. Here’s a guideline listing five things you should never say to someone with Alzheimer’s disease.


1) Never Remind Them That a Loved One Has Passed Away

This goes without saying, but it’s extremely important nonetheless. While thinking that forgetting a loved one might be preposterous, it’s certainly not uncommon amongst those suffering from Alzheimer’s. There’s no worse way to affect someone dealing with Alzheimer’s than reminding them of their deceased loved one.

Denial and anger are very likely to follow their newfound discovery; and on the off chance that they do believe you, they’ll become very upset. The only exception to the rule is if they themselves ask you about a deceased loved one. In this case, honesty is the best policy.


1) Don't Make Them Remember Past Events

Another self-explanatory discussion point, yet this is once again highly important to note. Alzheimer’s critically affects one’s memory via continual loss of brain cells. Therefore, asking someone to remember something with this illness is illogical, since it brings up the very problem that you’re trying to accommodate.

Memory-related topics can lead to lots of embarrassment and frustration. It’s simply best to avoid such a conversation in its entirety; and if you were to ask about it, make sure to phrase the conversation topic well enough to the point that the memory is fresh in their mind before the question is asked.

For example, “Do you remember that time we went to Disneyland? We rode all the rides and got cotton candy after the fireworks finished.” The question has been asked, however, the abundance of background information regarding the discussion topic should make the memory easier to remember.


3) Avoid Open-Ended Questions

Be direct when communicating. It’s essential that the person you are communicating with has a firm grasp of what is being discussed. Asking open-ended questions, or being vague in general, can lead to bundles of stress for someone with Alzheimer’s if they can’t remember the talking points. It may seem impolite to speak in such direct terms, however, it’s much better to talk about current events than broad-scoped topics.

For example, avoid asking “What would you like for food?”, and instead ask questions more along the lines of “Would you rather have pizza, hot dogs, or a cheeseburger?” The contrast in sentence structure allows for the latter sentence to send a clear and concise message, while the former sentence remains vague and open-ended. Make it easy for a loved one and be as precise and direct as possible when asking questions.


4) Don’t Argue:

The most common reason to avoid arguments is that you will never win them. The most likely scenario to unfold is an endless argument resulting in increased stress and anger on behalf of the person being affected by Alzheimer’s. Arguments are entirely avoidable, so put personal beliefs aside and prevent disagreements altogether. The communication benefits will be positive.

If an argument were to present itself, the best course of action would be to change the subject as swiftly as possible. Try discussing attention-grabbing topics, as rude as it sounds, chances are they will forget what the argument was about anyways. Shift gears to pleasant talking points, ones that bring laughter and happiness. If done correctly, the anger and stress that had been built up during the argument should fade away relatively fast.


5) Don’t Say “You said that already”

The biggest Don't of them all. The short-sightedness in this statement is astounding, but it happens more often than it should so it’s worth mentioning. Obviously, the idea of mentioning to someone with a bad memory that they have a bad memory is only going to relinquish negative consequences. Embarrassment, frustration, sadness, and anger are only a few of the many reactions one could have.

Avoid those words at all costs, the last thing someone suffering from Alzheimer’s needs is a reminder of how the illness affects them. Be patient, it’s okay to recognize a mistake and not ridicule someone for it. Don’t be irresponsible enough to mention this saying. The consequences are pretty self-revealing.

All in all, the guidelines to successfully communicating with someone dealing with Alzheimer’s are simple, direct, and clear. If you avoid vagueness, formulate positive, happy discussion topics, and are concise in your talking points, then communicating becomes easy.


Next Steps

It’s essential to avoid all of the negative discussion types listed above. The point of communication is to build understanding of senior living communities. This becomes especially important when dealing with an illness such as Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, it’s imperative that communication remains relevant and unsophisticated, as extensive talking increases chances of confusion. In totality, Alzheimer’s is a difficult disease to cope with, however, with sustained effort and consistently positive communication, the effects taking hold of a person can be mitigated greatly.


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Topics: Alzheimers

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